In the times of fast changing technology, enhanced methodologies and means of information exchange, one can hardly afford not to stay abreast with it. Knowledge and power being complementary, renders no distinction acquiring any of the two. The reverse also holds good lacking one means losing the other. And knowledge is nothing but information.
It’s a matter of fact that still 70 per cent of country’s population resides in villages. We have huge opportunities to cash in on the obvious- empowering rural masses with complete IT revolution. If we continue fall short of being pro-active approach on the issue, it would certainly render our society into a mess of poor ghettos in terms of deprivation of all kind. This consideration and also the idea of integration of urban and rural areas by means of IT has obliged the union government to conceive the idea of implementation of IT in rural India. This is being seen a step forward to the realisation of the goal of global village. Further, with the steady emergence of India as an IT giant and it is perceived that she will take the lead in this segment as well. And, thus, IT implementation in rural India has been vested with the opportunity of being at the top priority, considering the global market and the competition India is confronted with, in terms of economical and technological growth.
Tanmoy Chakrabarty, VP & Head, Government Industry Solutions Unit (ISU), TCS, says, “Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has emerged as a powerful tool in bringing about transformation for the rural population of India. Presently, one does witness ICT proliferation in urban areas in India. Internet penetration and other e-services are showing an upward trend.” However, the real challenge is to bring the enablement of the ICT to masses and impact the society at large where 70 percent of the population resides.
The issue is how best can we transfer eGovernance to the rural mass to bring in transparency and accountability to the functioning of government at various levels? Explains Chakravarty, “There is a need to share the example of good practices that are available with the common mass so that these practices are emulated and get replicated and digital parity is established little sooner across the society.” At the outset, concentration should be managed on the main occupation of rural people. Agriculture must be the first thing to have an introduction with information technology to meet the expected outcome. Frankly speaking, IT has been now replaced by ICT, so it is foolhardy to talk about computers as the sole representative of IT. Satellite observation systems to identify when crops were planted and how they are developing should be put in place. Subjects of utmost importance like information on air humidity, soil moisture content and the second variation of precipitation will be readily available now. Also free daily weather and weather forecast is not a bigger task anymore.
Furthermore suggestions about the time of harvest and warnings on potential crop damage such as swarms of locusts will be a matter of fact for the farmers. Information about anything right from mixed farming, nursery management, pest control, plant breeding annual welfare, animal husbandry, forestry, land reclamation will be all in-hand property of the farmer.
SENSE OF DUTY
Some projects taken as an incentive by the government for the encouragement of IT in rural areas and for combating corruption are tremendous success. Several state governments are running projects in rural areas. One of such projects is Bhoomi. The department of revenue in Karnataka has computerised twenty million records of land ownership of 6.7 million farmers in the state. Previously, farmers had to seek out the village accountant to get a copy of the Record of Rights, Tenancy and Crops (RTC) – a document needed for many tasks such as obtaining bank loans. There were delays and harassment. Bribes had to be paid. Today for a fee of Rs. 15 a printed copy of the RTC can be obtained from computer land record kiosks (Bhoomi Centers). Such projects are much of a solace to the poor farmers who have been living under the zamindari tyranny for hundreds of years. Some officials may not acknowledge the fact that the Indian farmer is still dependent on local book keeping system, informal accounting which is corrupt and inaccurate. Their ignorance about their rights makes them easy prey to the corrupt moneylenders. Media can act as a guide in the midst of unavailability of honest and legitimate advice. Through IT we get a better connectivity across the globe which means better trade transactions, inculcation of competitiveness and quest for better quality and better productivity. Such an environment expands the horizons of knowledge and perfection.
Information technology has also gotten herculean task of maintaining national integrity, harmony and patriotism. The seemingly insurmountable scourge of communalism will be better dealt with the help of IT. A farmer in a remote village in Maharashtra can communicate with another in Punjab. The inter-regional, ethnic and linguistic differences will be sorted. Interaction and exchange of views and ideas without being influenced by the war-monger politicians will be of immense help. Any bill introduced in any state legislature which goes against the interests of farmers of that state can be unanimously condemned by their counterparts in other parts of the country. Thus strengthening the democracy called India. People being innocent and ignorant in villages are easily mis led through sectarian and communal politics. By IT a direct interaction with the persons concerned and interfacing with different view points on a possible mischief, will be achieved and any communal outburst can be successfully averted.
AHEAD OF ITS TIME
Next best thing is women in empowerment and emancipation by means of ICT. Education, vocational training, cooking lessons, economic and social independence – all in the reach. Pro-school development classes for infants and child care classes for mothers are a few more advantages to add. By the IT revolution inter-city marketing for women entrepreneurs is possible. This will establish a closed group communication network for community based women organisations to promote inter-city direct sales of products made by artisans and skilled workers. This will be accomplished by providing community based organizations (CBOS) with communication lines by way of cellular phones to enable them to network for marketing their products. Apart from this, daily wage laborers and low remunerative job holders will be largely benefited by information on current job availability. Govt. employees like school teachers and village nurse will get opportunities to upgrade their knowledge every day. Nurses and medical shop owners can better deal with any epidemic by acquiring adequate knowledge of the latest developments in medicine. Dissipation of numerous myths about some diseases like AIDS, leprosy, etc. is possible. And various movements like Pulse Polio Immunisation Movement will be greater than success. A better platform will be met in handling sensitive matters like all prevalent superstitions. This is related to their ethos and must not be taken casually. Educating people by means of classroom teaching is not of much avail but should be supported by conducting audio -visual campus live demonstrations of the facts through Internet and other media, and direct confrontation with the persons who overcame such superstitions. Needless to say, this can be done only with the IT implementation.
Education for school and college students through online tuition centres, radio, TV, mobile phones will be available. Establishment of a library of educational CD’s for more and more information for everyone and anyone who holds a quest to know more. Because of their shy nature, rural people know little about sex education. Thus, sex education will be provided by means of television, radio, etc. Concept of safe sex and family planning is another thing to end up their queries, myths and false concepts.
POWER IN HAND
Information about government grants, loans etc. schemes and insurance policies further establishes them firmly on the position to safeguard the future of their progeny. For business minded people like small enterprise trader, kirana shop owner, small industrialists, cottage Industry owners real estate investment is something irresistible. New market exploration if done manually is a tough job but is a matter of few minutes time by means of ICT. “In India, we have an extreme dichotomy. While on the one hand, India is a country with $80 million dollars IT exports, the rural population still forms the non privileged section of the digital divide. The challenge before us is to bring the economically deprived section to the other side of digital divide,” says Chakarvarty of TCS.
LOOKING IN TO FUTURE
To conclude, we can say that the role of ICT in rural areas is tremendous. It is inevitable considering the development of the nation as whole and indispensable for if we want to be healthy, the food we eat must be healthy. The hope that ICT can surmount at least some of rural India’s social, political, and administrative challenges and create a viable technology for the provision of health, education, and other social services is, thus ICT’s strongest calling card. An additional expectation is that ICT can be used innovatively to improve access to the large, underserved market that rural India’s 700 million people represent, especially considering that India has the resources to build an ICT infrastructure, i.e., its large, skilled, cost- efficient IT workforce.
To assess the exact situation, we can say that experimentation is still the order of the day, arising primarily from the limited availability and affordability of relevant content and the information network. As a result, most projects are financially unviable and expectations on content and usage are unmet. Few things like poor infrastructure, high deployment and maintenance costs and the lack of content for eGovernance are some of the major hurdles. Some problems exist because the strengths of the different stakeholders are not being used optimally. We feel that the private sector, NGOs and local government all provide services under a competitive model, while using village level regulation to ensure that equitable access and partnerships are enabled.